It is about time that the State of New York finally catches up to what the town of Penfield is already doing! For many years, local towns like Penfield have have broadcast public meetings over their local public access cable television stations. Several years ago, Penfield began broadcasting public meetings–both hearings and work sessions–in full high-definition on the Internet. Once that happened, you no longer needed to have access to the town’s cable access channel. You can now watch meetings of the town, zoning, and planning boards from anywhere in the world–as long as you have Internet access.
On December 11, 2015, the State of New York enacted an amendment to the Open Meetings Law (L.2015, ch.519), adding a new subdivision (f) to Section 103 of the Public Officers Law. Starting next month, open meetings of agencies (which for the purposes of this new subdivision generally include only state agencies) shall be broadcast to the public and maintained as records of the agency. The new subdivision also generally requires agencies to stream such meetings in real-time, and post video of the meetings on the agency’s website within and for a reasonable time after the meeting. One caveat, though, is that agencies are only required to stream and post the meetings if they already maintain a regularly and routinely updated website, and if they already utilize a high-speed Internet connection. Don’t all state agencies maintain updated websites, with high-speed connections? They should.
Even though the Governor was criticized for his recent FOIL vetoes, this amendment gives good government groups at least one small victory this term. As noted by the sponsor’s memorandum in support of the legislation:
This legislation would help increase transparency by allowing people to virtually participate in open meetings, without imposing additional burdens on public bodies. Moreover, making the content of these meetings easily available to the public would reduce the likelihood of repeated questions to the agency, the impact of misinformation, and the number of individual FOIL requests.
In the past, I have viewed live-streaming and archived video of oral arguments at the Court of Appeals. Living and working more than three hours away from Albany, it would not have been practical for me to do that for the cases I was able to observe without the Internet capabilities of the Court. The availability of live-streaming and video archiving now enables those of us in Western New York to more easily observe our government in action. I am looking forward to the opportunity to observe the agencies in the executive branch from the comfort of my office in Rochester. The amendment takes effect on January 10, 2016.